“Because I got high…”

Breaking down the issue of marijuana in MMA.


Ever since Nick Diaz got a 12 month ban from the Nevada State Athletic Commission for failing a drug test for marijuana metabolites and having never informed them of his medical marijuana use, it’s been a hotly debated issue that marijuana cannot be considered a Performance Enhancing Drug, and failing a test for it should not incur a ban. The recent test failures and subsequent punishment of Matt Riddle, Dave Herman and Thiago Silva have only reignited the debate.

To be honest I’m a little torn on the wider issue for reasons that ill go into in a bit, but in practise if you are aware that use of a certain substance is banned by the authority that licenses you to work, then you take it at your own risk, irrespective of prescriptions or the relative moral or legal standpoint in the rest of society.

Basically, if you’re a truck driver and you fail a drug test, you’ll get fired. If you’re a cop and you fail a drug test, you’ll get fired. If you’re an Olympic athlete who tests for trace elements of something that is banned cause you took an over the counter cough medicine… they’ll still ban you.

MMA is, and should be no different. There is no point whinging about a rule that you knowingly broke, once you’ve just been busted breaking it, it just comes across as petulant.

However, that doesn’t mean to say there isn’t a case for it being an unjust rule. Aside from the fact that the SACs say that marijuana is banned and its illegal in most civilised places, there are a few points to argue that getting busted having taken a 4:20 break or two shouldn’t result in career harming bans and wins turned to losses or no contests on your record.

The first point is that marijuana isn’t exactly a performance enhancing drug. This is pretty much a non-point, as its not banned because it makes you faster or stronger etc. it’s banned because its largely illegal and it’s also 100% proven to be a substance which slows your reactions and affects your reasoning. It you go into a fight stoned, you are effectively risking your own life and that’s not something your opponent, employer or whatever oversight authority needs to deal with. It’s unprofessional, it’s unsafe and it’s disrespectful.

A counterpoint to that is that you can test positive for marijuana metabolites having not had a smoke in weeks, due to the amount of time the particles remain in your system, long after having been active.

Of course, that’s immaterial as long as marijuana is an illegal drug. There is no doubt that MMA fighters testing positive for heroin or cocaine in their systems would still be considered a Bad Thing by almost everyone, largely because the apologists and campaigners on behalf of these (more obviously harmful) drugs are far fewer in number and have less of a case. However, marijuana is legal in some US states and is legal with a medical card in a few more.

On that reasoning, you can fail a drug test for your fight based on something you took completely legally, or worse for something you have been prescribed by your doctor.

Now, the fact that marijuana is legal in some places is not an issue, because there are lots of legal things which are banned substances for the purposes of athletic competition and if the SACs think excessive use of something is dangerous to a fighter or their opponent, they are well within their rights to ban it.

The medical marijuana point is more valid, as there are more than a few fighters, such as Matt Riddle who have medical marijuana prescribed for psychological issues, like depression or anxiety.

Now, I’m not necessarily advocating that use of the drug (my experience with stoners indicating that heavy marijuana use leads to dependency, mood swings and insularity) but I’m not a Doctor and on principle, I’m inclined to think that you shouldn’t be banned for taking prescribed medicine.

Outside the context of MMA and sport in general, I personally believe that all drugs should be legal and regulated, as prohibition doesn’t work, criminalises a chunk of the population unnecessarily, funds organised crime and costs a fortune to police (ineffectively.)

On the other hand, legalisation and regulation would add a revenue stream to the government, would reduce deaths from folks taking dubious things like detergent sold to them as drugs by a shady guy in an alley, and removing the ‘drugs are bad’ stigma and increasing proper education would just be a good thing for everyone. I believe that self responsibility and more education is always a better course than a ‘thou shalt not, and don’t question it’ attitude.

However, that belief applies to normal people, not professional athletes who by definition should not indulge in things which are banned in the interests of safety and fair play.

Marijuana might not help you gain muscle mass but it does have psychological and physiological effects which are broadly regarded to be negative. As such, I’m perfectly happy with athletic commissions having it on their list of banned substances. However, I do believe that folks who have marijuana prescribed by their doctor should be allowed to register a certain amount of marijuana metabolites in their tests.

Hell, if a doctor says its necessary for them to live a normal life, I’m a lot happier with an exception for that that an older fighter getting a TRT exemption to hold back the years…

It’s an argument that will run on and on, and the hard liners on both sides, from the ‘all drugs are bad, except the ones that are already legal and taxed’ brigade on one side and the heavy stoners who insist that cannabis has no negative side effects and is in fact a miracle crop (yeah, cause you want it to be legal so you can make it into clothing…) bunch on the other side unlikely to ever meet in the middle.

At the end of the day, it is now a banned substance and taking a banned substance when as a professional athlete you know you will be tested for it is just damned silly and an obvious risk to your career prospects.

In my humble opinion, some fighters need to take some personal responsibility for their actions and have a look at their priorities. Likewise, those fight fans who are apologists for fighters who get busted for smoking need to think what would happen if they failed a drug test at work…

I’m off to listen to some Black Sabbath and look at a lava lamp for a few hours…




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